There has been growing concern about the presence of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Foam). PFAS have been associated with serious environmental, pollution, and health issues. This has been a topic of discussion at NAFED conferences for the past three years. The major areas of concern have been at civilian and military airfields, petrochemical facilities, and firefighting testing and training facilities where AFFF has widespread use.
This issue also includes AFFF fire extinguishers. Recently both Amerex and Ansul have stopped production and sales of AFFF fire extinguishers and recharge agents. Badger is in the process of redesigning their stainless-steel cylinders and, once completed, will be offering their AR-AFFF extinguishers. A Buckeye representative stated that they are developing an AFFF extinguisher that should be introduced in the future.
This development has a significant impact on the fire extinguisher service industry. The current NFPA 10 requires that these extinguishers be recharged every three years and hydrotested every five years. However, without the agents being available, the extinguishers cannot be recharged and should be removed from service. Depending on the hazard being protected, another Class B rated extinguisher may be substituted. However, dry chemical or clean agent fire extinguishers do not have the ability to suppress vapors like a foam extinguisher does.
What happens next? New agents are being developed but we do not know what the timeline is before they are approved and developed for use in fire extinguishers.
The next edition of NFPA 10 is scheduled for release in 2021. The new edition contains a proposed revision to Section 188.8.131.52.1 that would read:
184.108.40.206.1 The premixed agent in liquid charge–type AFFF and FFFP fire extinguishers shall be replaced
One fire extinguisher manufacturer stated at the NFPA 10 technical committee meeting that their agent does have a five-year life. Once this agent and extinguisher becomes available there should not be a need to recharge those extinguishers on a three-year cycle.
Make certain that if you are servicing or removing AFFF extinguishers from service, the foam solution should not be disposed of by pouring into the sewer system or pouring it on the ground. The solution is considered a hazardous material and an environmental hazardous substance. Disposal must be in accordance with appropriate federal, state/provincial, and local regulations.